A representative of the ruling Awami League denied Friday that the Bangladesh government was involved in spreading fake news on accounts and pages recently disabled by Facebook.
Asked about allegations made in a Facebook statement Thursday, H.T. Imam, a political adviser to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and co-chair of her party’s election steering committee, declined to answer and referred the question to a junior Awami leader.
“We have no links with these accounts. We do not have any intention to launch any propaganda against anyone. We do not know who ran these accounts,” Biplob Barua told reporters at the Election Commission in Dhaka.
“Our leader Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has no Facebook account. But you will find many fake accounts in her name,” he said, adding that the Awami League was “the worst victim” of misinformation spread on Facebook.
Facebook said Thursday that the Bangladesh government appeared to be linked to imposter news sites, which had been posting anti-opposition content ahead of a looming general election.
The social media giant said it had shut down nine pages and six accounts on its Bangladesh platform after discovering they purported to be reputable news sites like bdnews24 or the BBC Bengali service, among others.
“[T]hese pages were designed to look like independent news outlets and posted pro-government and anti-opposition content. Our investigation indicates that this activity is linked to individuals associated with the Bangladesh government,” said a statement by Facebook cybersecurity policy chief Nathaniel Gleicher.
Last month, BenarNews reported that clones of leading news and information sites including Prothom Alo and BDFactCheck.com were being used to spread fake content. The sites typically contained real news stories as well as false ones, and a single extra character in the URL.
Bangladesh officials said at the time that they were moving to shut down such sites.
“I have come to know about it. I have also visited some fake websites. No doubt, this is a crime,” Information and Telecommunications Minister Mustafa Jabbar told BenarNews.
More than 100 million Bangladeshi voters are eligible to vote in the Dec. 30 general election, the first contested polls since 2008, in which 299 parliamentary seats are up for grabs. Hasina is seeking an unprecedented fourth term in office. She ran unopposed in 2014.
Her longtime rival, Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, is in jail on corruption convictions. Opposition candidates allege they are being subjected to arrests and attacks.
On Thursday, BNP leaders lodged complaints about violence at the Election Commission in Dhaka, and alleged that 16 opposition candidates had been arrested under false pretenses.
“The ruling party armed goons have been carrying out targeted attacks on the candidates of the BNP and the National Unity Front,” joint secretary general Moazzem Hossain Alal told BenarNews, referring to a coalition partner of the BNP.
“They carried out at least 150 attacks. The aim of the attacks is to intimidate our leaders and activists and the voters,” he said.
But in a statement Thursday, the government blamed opposition factions for political violence, saying that two Awami members had been killed and another 72 injured since campaigning began earlier this month.
Describing intense violence that took place during the 2014 election, and blaming the BNP for attacks that killed more than 200 people at that time, it said authorities were now arresting individuals “with outstanding warrants for serious crimes.”
At least 115 incidents of violence have taken place around Bangladesh since campaigning began on Dec. 10, and three people have been killed, according to Bangladesh media reports.